"Winnie the Pooh," "Cowboys & Aliens," and "Horrible Bosses"
I've gone to three movies in the past week that couldn't really be more different. We've got some ground to cover so let's get started.
"Winnie the Pooh" - For the past decade or so there has been a concerted effort by animated filmmakers to appeal more and more to adults. Whether it's the themes, characters, or sense of humor, animated movies seem to be made to work on multiple levels for vastly different audiences. What makes Disney's "Winnie the Pooh" unique is just how kiddie it really is. There's nothing in it that a five year old won't understand. And really that's exactly how it should be. This doesn't mean however that adults will not enjoy it. If at any time in your life you have loved A.A. Milne's tales of, "a bear of very little brain," then this movie will put a smile on your face.
The plot is simple really. Eeyore's tale is missing and the rest of Christopher Robin's little friends seek a suitable replacement for it. However when Owl (voiced by Craig Ferguson), the most educated creature in the Hundred Acre Woods, comes to believe that Christopher Robin has been kidnapped by a dangerous "bakson," the gang must pull together to get him back.
Light as can be and like Milne's original stories, "Winnie the Pooh" is clever without going over a child's head. It's fun and at barely more than an hour in length, it keeps five year old attention spans (and bladders) in mind. Something else that sets "Pooh" apart is that Ferguson aside, there are no big names voicing major characters. We're not suddently hearing the voice of John Goodman coming out of Pooh's mouth. Instead, it's just a very talented collection of voice actors. Jim Cummings has voiced Pooh for decades now and it's still amazing how eerily similar he sounds to the original Pooh, Sterling Holloway.
This is a terrific little movie that is unfortunately being overlooked. 7.5/10.
"Cowboys & Aliens" - Since the first trailer for this was released last autumn this was very near the top of my most anticipated movies list. Daniel Craig in the old west, Harrison Ford actually looking like he was enjoying himself for the first time in a long time, and Jon Favreau ("Iron Man") directing a sci-fi western. Yes, please! I was very excited. So did it live up to my hopes?
Jake Lonergan (Craig) doesn't know he's Jake Lonergan, or what that name means when he wakes up in the desert with a strange shackle upon his wrist and an unexplained wound on his stomach. Much like Jason Bourne, Jake may not know who he is, but he knows how to kill people threatening his life without hesitation. After learning this, Jake finds himself in Absolution, a town owned by cattle man Colonel Woodrow Dolarhyde (Ford). Dolarhyde's obnoxious son Percy (Paul Dano) doesn't let anyone in town forget just who is in charge in Absolution.
Not being one to be intimidated by anyone, Jake stands up to the young hooligan, which leads to a series of events that land the both of them in jail. With the pair about to be taken elsewhere to be tried, the mysterious Ella (Olivia Wilde) hopes to enlist Jake's help with something, well, mysterious.
Before the coach can leave Absolution, something no one has ever before seen flies into town leaving a trail of destruction and kidnapping several townsfolk, including Percy, the sheriff (Keith Carradine), and the wife (Ana de la Reguera) of the town doctor (Sam Rockwell). The only weapon that the people of Absolution have to fight it is what Jake is wearing on his wrist, much to his surprise. Jake, Dolarhyde, Ella, Doc, and the rest of the remaining townspeople band together to track down the alien menace and get their loved ones back.
"Cowboys & Aliens" is a movie I really wanted to love and for a little while I did. It gets off to an excellent start and there was a lot of potential here. Favreau, the actors, and the screenplay by committee get the tone just right. This isn't a big budget extravaganza masquerading as B-movie schlock, it's a big budget extravaganza that knows that's just what it is, and it's played with a straight face, as it should be. The trouble is, that screenplay by committee, makes for a muddled story and wastes some terrific opportunities. So much more could have been done with the relationship between Dolarhyde and Percy. As it is, you really don't care whether or not the two are reunited. The emotional core of the film ends up being the subplot involving Doc's search for his wife. Rockwell proves once again that he is simply one of the finest actors alive today and his character is clearly the one the audience will care about the most.
In terms of the other performances Craig is terrific and is the main reason that tonally at least, "Cowboys & Aliens" works. Wilde does a fine job with a character who isn't developed as much as she ought to be given how important she is to the story. There's also a nice performance by Clancy Brown as Absolution's preacher. Other than Doc, he's the character you'll like the most.
The question of Harrison Ford though. Well he's engaged with the material, which he hasn't seemed to be very often the past several years, but something just feels off. I'm not sure what it is and it's not as though it's a bad performance, but like I said, something just feels off.
Ultimately the biggest problem "Cowboys & Aliens" has is that it just isn't fun enough. It somehow just doesn't manage to be the good time that you wish that it would be. The muddled story and lack of character development are the biggest culprits but I think there's another factor. One I can't quite put my finger on. You could do a lot worse than "Cowboys & Aliens," but it's writers could have done much better. 6.5/10.
"Horrible Bosses" - According to the Flaming Lips, "You hate your boss at your job...but in your dreams you can blow his head off." For three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia"), and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis, "SNL"), these are words that truly resonate.
Kurt loved his previous boss, but now that his cokehead son Bobby (Colin Farrell) is in charge and demanding that Kurt, "fire all the fat people," things have decidedly changed. Dale is a dental assistant who is happily engaged to Stacy (Lindsay Sloane, "The TV Set"), but unhappily working for maneater Julia (Jennifer Aniston), whose advances are most unwelcome. Nick meanwhile has been passed over for a promotion several years in the making by the truly despicable Dave Harken (Kevin Spacey).
One night as the three best friends try to drink away their sorrows they discuss "hypothetically" killing their bosses, something Dale is uncomfortable even joking about, that is until the next morning when Julia takes things way too far. From here the three decide that their lives would all be better without their bosses in them and they're going to make that dream a reality.
Written by Michael Markowitz, Jonathan Goldstein, and John Francis Daley (who you know as an actor from "Freaks and Geeks" and "Bones"), "Horrible Bosses" is a dark comedy that emphasizes the comedy. Despite a number of trailers and commercials that show several of the film's jokes, almost all of the best ones are saved for the movie. Thanks to its script, Seth Gordon's direction, and the uniformly terrific cast, it's just ceaselessly funny.
Bateman, Day, and Sudeikis play off of each other so well you'd think the three really had been best friends for years. There's a chemistry in their scenes together that just couldn't have worked any better. What the writers and actors also do here is keep these characters likeable in spite of what they plan to carry out. If that had faltered this movie wouldn't have been able to sustain its premise.
As the horrible bosses in question, all three performers get a chance to shine. Aniston delivers a performance far better than is typical for her. Generally her blandness sucks the life out of everything around her but she's very funny here. Farrell meanwhile is obviously having a ball playing Bobby and he's every bit as much fun to watch. Spacey's character and performance are notable because of how not funny they are. Not in a flat, painfully unfunny way, but due to how genuinely risible Harken is. From the get go he is clearly the most despicable boss of the three to the point where you can't even laugh at the bile that spews from his mouth. This is a choice however that ultimately works.
There are also some wonderful cameos throughout the film that don't call unnecessary attention to themselves and Jamie Foxx is a riot as the man the gang hopes will carry out the jobs for them. I'll say nothing else about this character as everything about him is a hilarious surprise.
"Horrible Bosses" is well written, well acted, and directed with a soft touch by a man who was best known before this for making the documentary "The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters." You think it's going to run out of steam before the end but it doesn't. This is a very funny film. Don't miss it. 8.5/10.